By Meghna Amin
In the midst of lockdown last year, Vox, The Telegraph, and BBC were only a few of the national publications to comment on the fact that with more time on our hands and very little excitement, sending nudes had become something of a norm. The need for intimacy, connection with someone, or just confidence within yourself was something people of all age groups were seeking through the lonely nights of the pandemic. And as the numbers of nudes being sent had arisen, so had the explanations and stories behind them.
Out of the epidemic of sending nudes during the pandemic, arose an anthology of seven poems, seven short stories, an essay and a haiga, forming Guts Publishing’s Sending Nudes.
Each piece is foregrounded by a comment from the author on their thoughts on ‘sending nudes’, what it means for them and how it has affected them, including Durham’s own student Issy Flower, who I was lucky enough to chat to about her contribution, ‘Marble’. Inspired by “the thought of how we perceive art and how this is shaped by male and female gazes”, Flower’s short story offers the question of whether sending nudes on Snapchat, for example, is quite the same as the art forms we see in museums and galleries.
According to Flower, “art involves care and time, and intention to create it”. Whilst some of the other contributions to the anthology touch on feminist issues, such as the power and control women have over our bodies, when reading Flower’s short story, I considered the powerful ending to showcase a feminist reclaiming of nudity. When I questioned Flower about this, she maintained that the feminist power lies “in the way its controlled – it’s about reclaiming its original position as a piece of male fantasy”.
Speaking of male fantasy, which nudes and sexual imagery are commonly (and perhaps wrongly) associated with, Sending Nudes did, in my opinion, offer greater insight into women’s thoughts on sending nudes. Whether it’s for confidence, the relationship between trust and imagery, how women’s relationships about their bodies, or perhaps whether it’s an act stemming from insecurity.
The experimental writing features honest, sometimes playful, accounts of an intimate moment. A moment based on trust, that can shroud feelings of insecurity in fleeting confidence, take a form considered distasteful and disguise it as beauty. Or maybe it’s about trying to find the intimacy, about building a relationship during a time when relationships are locked down. Is sending nudes the pandemic version of traditional courting? One writer describes that “creating nudes and sharing them seems to be part of human nature”, whilst another agrees that “there’s nothing new about sending nudes”.
Whether introducing the reader to the actual art of sending nudes, or presenting a few explanations behind the model’s mind, Sending Nudes is a powerful collection and portrayal of something that has become the norm. In fact, as one writer reflected, Hugh Hefner has been sending nudes monthly in magazine form and Ancient Puebloans have sent us nudes from artwork drawn onto and into canyon walls. Nowadays, the artists are instead seeking some form of connection or reassurance alongside their art – or maybe they’re just bored.
Aside from perhaps some of those more widely discussed senders of nudes, two stories I found particularly illuminating were one which focused on a grandmother sending nudes (not someone you’d quite expect) and another giving insight into editing nudes, literally creating something artful from something beautiful (or is it the other way around?). On the other end of the spectrum, some don’t send nudes “from a happy place”. They feel particularly vulnerable in one snapshot. Others focus on the liberation that arises from the vulnerability. The fact that ultimately, it’s just skin.
If there’s one thing I will admit, it feels as though the anthology doesn’t go as far as it could. I wanted to hear more voices, more stories behind the nudes. And a little more diversity too. Interestingly, while reading through the short stories and pages of poetry, it does appear that all the relationships included are hetero-sexual. All the nudes being sent are transferred from a man to a woman and back again. Perhaps this doesn’t make the art as all-encompassing as I would’ve thought at first.
Does the anthology normalise nudes? To some extent, yes. Does it explain them, even justify them? Maybe. Does it leave the reader with a new found understanding for a non-so-conventional art form? Definitely.
Image: Stavrialena Gontzou via Unsplash